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Tuesday 28 February 2017

Wild West Campaign Update: Double Tragedy

This was a momentous session.  It started when Zeke Houston found a half-dead hobo on the border of his farmland. He'd been lassoed and dragged near death. He recovered, however, and it turned out that he wasn't actually just a drifter; he was the son of the second-biggest cattle baron of Oklahoma. A couple of former Pinkertons had come down to Dodge looking for him. And when the young man didn't want to press charges, the PCs started getting the idea that he was planning to use his dad's men to exact his own revenge on the ranchers of the Square-Q, who had done this to him.

Meanwhile, Miller was struggling to keep up with married life now that he was newly-wed to Doris (formerly the Widow McKnee). It started to become obvious how the sexagenarian had outlived her last four husbands!  While she was looking younger and more vibrant by the day, Miller was looking more worn and tired and haggard.  The PCs were starting to suspect she might be a vampire-succubus.

Kid Taylor's sister Lily had been dating Ed Masterson, the mild-mannered brother of Bat Masterson.

But this was not proceeding fast enough for Lily, and definitely not fast enough for Kid Taylor, who was trying to manage the fine line between not inviting Ed to stain his sister's honor and desperately trying to hurry him up into marrying her to get her off his back. Kid was busy with his nascent dental practice, and he'd come up with a sideline: he told Dirty Dave Rudabaugh to spread the word that he was also available for doctor's services- "no questions asked" - to anyone who wanted to avoid seeing Doc Baker, for reasons of avoiding the law.

Then all kinds of hell broke loose. Through some convoluted events, Kid Taylor ended up implying something to Mrs. Miller about Cooter, the sheriff's jailor. He suggested Cooter had insulted her honor (this wasn't true, Taylor was saying it to try to get out of another lie he'd told).  Mrs. Miller was of course incensed at Cooter, and ran off in search of her husband, who'd taken to hiding away from her just to get some sleep.  Deputy Young told her that he was probably sleeping in the stables with his horse, Brimstone. And indeed he was.

She ran into the stables, gesticulating and speaking loudly while Miller was asleep, and Brimstone kicked her in the head, killing her instantly.

Everyone was utterly stunned by this totally unexpected tragedy, from a crazy turn of events. Miller was in shock. He'd never actually wanted to marry Doris (though he didn't really want her dead), but he had another big fear: Doris Miller (formerly McKnee, formerly Williamson, formerly Diaz, formerly Jackson, originally Holliday) was the aunt of the deadliest gunfighter in the world:  John Henry "Doc" Holliday. Miller figured that the second Doc Holliday found out, Miller might end up with a bullet in his chest. Mind you, Holliday isn't in Dodge, and who knows how long it might be before he even hears of his aunt's death.

Meanwhile the townsfolk thought Brimstone was a public menace and were literally threatening to go to the stables with torches and pitchforks to kill Miller's beloved horse. Miller asked the only man he knew besides himself that could ride Brimstone: the sociopathic John Joshua Webb.  He asked Webb to take Brimstone, and to find some other horse and fake Brimstone's death. The telegraph operator, Martin, was there, and agreed to help.

They couldn't just buy a sacrificial horse in Dodge, so Martin suggested that they try to steal one from the Square-Q, which Martin was heading toward to warn them about the Pinkertons.

Webb agreed, and the two set off there, but as usual with Webb, things escalated.  While Martin talked to the ranchers, Webb stole a horse, set fire to the stables and to the cowhand's barracks.  7 men and a dozen horses died in the fire.
Luckily for Martin, none of the Square-Q men knew Webb was with him (or there at all). But of course, they're likely to suspect he had something to do with it, seeing as it all happened while he was there.

Just when everyone thought the action was over, on a drizzly night the next evening, Ed Masterson was shot dead by a pair of Texans he'd been trying to arrest for messing up the Fort Bar.  Bat Masterson was nearby and shot one of the two Texans dead, injuring the other, but he fled.

He fled right to Kid Taylor's office, since he'd been told Taylor did under-the-table medical work, no questions asked. Of course, Kid Taylor wanted nothing to do with a situation this hot, and the Texan had just killed his sister's beau.  He tried to turn him away, but the Texan drew a gun on him.  Kid Taylor drew back, and shot first, and blew half the Texan's brain out. As usual, he made up a lie to cover the reason why the Texan came to his dental office and not the doc's medical office in the first place.


Currently Smoking: Neerup Cutty + C&D's Crowley's Best

Monday 27 February 2017 Elephant-Headed God Edition!

Check out Selfie-stick Ganesh, action-hero Ganesh, Spider-Ganesh, and many more Reasons Why Ganesh is Awesome

 Ganesh is the only Deity fun enough to let his own worshipers dress him up like this.  If only every other religion wasn't as hung up on trying to look all serious and who to call blasphemers. 

As always, if you liked the video please share it!


Currently Smoking: Lorenzetti Horn + Argento latakia 

Sunday 26 February 2017

Dark Albion: The X-Files Version!

Over on this blog, a Dark Albion fan has made this great blog entry about Aliens in Dark Albion.

You see, in Cults of Chaos, one of the major chaos cults covered in that sourcebook is the "star cult", who work with alien entities. Not creatures of chaos exactly, but entities from another world.

Yes, there's grey aliens (and more) in Cults of Chaos.

Well, Eric has run with it, and made some great speculations about extraterrestrial influences in the medieval world of Dark Albion.

So go check it out!


Currently Smoking: Italian redbark + Argento latakia

Saturday 25 February 2017

Classic Rant: RPGs You Should Look At If You Care About Inclusivity

There's been a lot of talk of late about how RPGs need to be inclusive, and totally false bullshit accusations about who is or isn't inclusive; most of this talk has been coming from people who have never actually DONE a fucking thing to make the hobby more inclusive, other than brag about how "socially conscious" they are while calling disabled women "fucksacks" for disagreeing with them, and pretending that the hobby will be inclusive by censoring and blacklisting anyone they don't personally like.

We should not, however, mistake these Opportunistic Pieces of Shit for actual spokespeople for any thing or anyone other than themselves and their own self-absorbed grandeur. Nor should we, importantly, mistake the kind of witch-hunting and vicious power-mongering they're engaging in for actual concern for inclusivity.
But most important of all, we shouldn't let the example of these fuckheads turn us off from the idea of RPGs being inclusive. That's really the worst part of the kind of shit these people pull: it makes people react AGAINST being inclusive; because they think "well, these people claim to be the spokespeople for being inclusive, and they're pretentious assholes who claim that to be inclusive we all have to do what they say, including a few things I seriously disagree with, so really just fuck 'inclusion'".

And that's a problem. We WANT this hobby to be more inclusive. Not in the fake way these self-absorbed pseudo-activists are trying to use inclusivity to push their own agenda, but in the real sense of being an actually welcoming hobby for everyone and presenting a diverse hobby; because diversity is awesome.

Does that sound a bit corny? I don't mean it in a corny kind of "The more you know" psa kind of way. I mean it in the literal sense; that having a more diverse hobby means that more awesome potential for roleplaying exists. 

How about we consider a couple of RPGs that are actually diverse and inclusive:

First, Lords of Olympus. It's an RPG about playing the children of Greek Gods, sure, but if you take a look at the HUGE setting section, which includes probably the most detailed setting information on Greek Mythology ever done for an RPG, you'll see that the NPC descriptions include a large number of powerful and fascinating female characters, as well as characters who are of all variety of sexualities, all presented in a serious and positive light. The setting assumes as a default that PCs can be whatever gender or sexuality they wish, and gives role models in the form of the backstories of the NPCs who will be the characters' relatives. And because a huge part of the action in LoO is (mythic-level) "Family Drama", the diversity of characters and relationships makes LoO directly MORE AWESOME.

Second, an even better example in Arrows of Indra. It's already been mentioned in a lot of places that AoI is the first RPG rulebook ever to feature a heroic transgendered character on the cover. It should also be noted that AoI introduces an awesome, detailed, historically-attentive presentation of a setting closely-copied from a non-western culture! As I've said before, one of the reasons I chose to stick close to the authentic mythology and legends of "Epic India" is because I realized very quickly that I literally could not do better; trying to make a "vaguely-india-based fantasy setting" would not have been better than the incredible richness of mythic themes and adventuring potential found in the real deal. By being inclusive and diverse (and authentic), it makes AoI MORE AWESOME, than just creating some other vaguely-exotic D&D-setting. I should also mention that AoI approaches the issue of gender and sexuality.

Oh yeah, and I should note that I wrote all this stuff BEFORE I ever Consulted for WoTC. I've been pushing inclusiveness for literally longer than 5e has existed. Unfortunately, the reason why my detractors have been able to lie about my views on all this is because unlike them, I wasn't in it to feel smug or get groovy-points for how socially conscious I was being. It wasn't about ME, it was about making my game better and actually really making something new and more interesting for the hobby. You know, REAL inclusiveness. 


(August 2, 2014)

Friday 24 February 2017

Break Friday: Cannibalism edition!

In today's Break article, we take a look at a truly weird phenomenon: Western Civilization.

We do so in the case study of the history and practice of Cannibalism. In the West we tend to think of cannibalism as something horrific.

Much of the rest of the world didn't. Here's why, in my latest article: Civilization is all That Stands Between You and Your Neighbor Eating Each Other.

If you like the article, please reshare it!


Currently Smoking: Lorenzetti Egg + Gawith's Navy Flake

Wednesday 22 February 2017

Help Me Settle on a Title for my Medieval-Authentic OSR Game

So, I've picked up speed lately on my upcoming Medieval-Authentic OSR Rulebook. It's going to be a complete OSR-based RPG with a lot of innovations. The emphasis will be on running games in worlds (be it our own historical world, or others) that more accurately reflect medieval society, culture, and ideas.   It'll have some material copied (with slight adjustment) from my Dark Albion setting (which is a Medieval-Authentic setting, of course), but it will also have a lot of new material and expanding previous material. It won't have it's own setting, just the default setting of an Albion-style medieval authentic world (with various examples mentioning the world of Albion).  It will not be a Dark Albion product, in the sense that you don't have to own Dark Albion of any of its supplements to use it.  It'll be entirely self-contained.

So far, I've written somewhat over 50000 words for it. So progress is good!  But there is one little thing that's been a big block for me: it's name.

Obviously, I don't think it should just be called "Medieval Authentic OSR Rulebook".  But I can't quite settle on anything else yet.

So I'm bringing it to you! Here's a few titles I've been toying around with. Tell me which you think might be the best one for the book!

-"Lion & Dragon: Medieval Authentic OSR Rules"

-"Magisters and Ruffians: Medieval Authentic OSR Rules"

-"Misbegotten Knaves: Medieval Authentic OSR Rules"

-"Irons of Wrath: Medieval Authentic OSR Rules"

-"Cracked Crowns: Medieval Authentic OSR Rules"

-"Barren Earth: Medieval Authentic OSR Rules"

-"Hollow Crown: Medieval Authentic OSR Rules"

Yes, other than the first one (which is a reference to the standards of the Plantagenets and the Tudors), and the second (which is maybe the most typical "D&D-esque" title) all the others are Shakespeare references.

So, share your opinion, let me know which you think looks like the best choice to you.
Oh, and if you have an idea of your own that you really think is great, and want to give away, feel free to make your suggestion too.


Currently Smoking: Ben Wade Rhodesian + Image Latakia

Tuesday 21 February 2017

Gay Social/Political Media Star Said it's OK to Have Sex With a 13-Year Old; No, it Wasn't Milo

So Milo didn't actually ever say it was OK for an adult to engage in sexual activity a 13 year old. He was very clear in stating that he believes in the current age of consent, and in the full version of the video that was doctored against him he makes it very clear that he thinks consent laws are a big part of what makes western civilization better than other cultures.

But guess who DID say it's ok to fool around with a 13 year old?

Yes, George Takei! Mr.Sulu himself, gay icon of the ctrl-left, adored by every fashionable leftist everywhere!

At the 2:20 mark he's talking about how it's totally ok to get sexy with a 13 year old if the boy doesn't complain.

I'm now waiting for every one of the Ctrl-Left activists out there, the same ones who suddenly found a deep concern for the welfare of children, to denounce Takei for statements vastly more explicit than anything Milo ever said

Do it! Or you are just proven shameless hypocrites on a witch-hunt against a political enemy who always humiliated you and who you despised.

Only it won't happen, will it? We know the Left will give Takei a free pass, because they are blatant and total hypocrites.

Milo and Takei were both in sexual encounters at the age of 13, both by much older authority figures (a scoutmaster in Takei's case, a catholic priest in Milo's), and both talked about it very bluntly in a public context.

But while Milo (as much as he, like Takei, talks about how he experienced pleasure from the encounter) insists that it's wrong for an adult to try to do something sexual with a 13 year old, George seems to be clearly saying that it's totally cool if the kid's into it.

And yet it's OK for George Takei to say that, as far as the Left is concerned. Hell, Lena Dunham admitted to molesting her little sister (she wrote about it in her book!) and she got an HBO show and an invitation to speak at the DNC for it!  

Plus, it's just different for the left, because George Takei is a "house homo". He's one of the "good ones". The ones who behave; who say the things the Left wants their homos to say. Takei doesn't get all "uppity" like Milo does. He doesn't try to run off the Democratic plantation. Takei doesn't challenge them like Milo does on issues that matter to him, like how Islamists want him thrown off a building.

The Left only loves LGBT people as long as they learn how to behave. They love their gay stars when those stars act as mouthpieces for leftist propaganda.
Milo doesn't.
George Takei does, so it's OK for him to openly endorse man-boy love, because he has the right politics.

And that's what this whole assault on Milo is about. No one involved gives even the teenie-tiniest little baby-sized shit about "protecting children". Not even a tiny bit. It's all about the politics of Destroying Milo because he represents something three totally different groups hate him for. He represents the future.

This is a panic play by Neocon NeverTrumpers, the Establishment Media, and the SJW left.

The Neocons, angry about CPAC, were the ones who doctored the Milofootage. It was a group associated with famous NeverTrumper, Establishment Puppet, fake Presidential Candidate and Mormon "lifelong bachelor" Evan McMullin (ironic!).
Trump's victory has ruined this group, and Breitbart and Milo were a huge part of Trump's victory.
The Establishment Media, angry about Breitbart, disseminated it the video. They know Milo has been a massive contributor to pointing out media lies.

And the Ctrl-Left, angry about Bill Maher not following the script, as well as despising Milo in general for being one of the "uppity gays" who doesn't let himself be controlled, charged in like sharks smelling blood.

The first group are on the verge of becoming extinct in the GOP; the second are losing their grip over control of information; the third, control over culture.

In all cases, Milo represents the force that has thwarted them all: young Cultural Libertarians who despise being told how to live or what to do, who don't trust the establishment, who don't really give a fuck about racism or sexism or homophobia but despise having people calling them those things to manipulate them into doing what they say, and who value Free Speech above all else.

Milo is the symbol of the totalitarian's (left, right, or corporate) impending doom. So they're trying to kill him as if that will stop what's started already, and keeps picking up speed: change.

Personally, I think Milo is clever and bold enough that he is going to get out from this and be twice as huge and influential on the Right in a year's time.  But even if he's not, it'll only be because someone (or SEVERAL someones) end up taking his place.

They can't stop us now.


Currently Smoking: Davidoff 400 series + C&D's Pirate Kake

Monday 20 February 2017

Break Monday: How to Become a Wizard Edition

In today's article, I talk about how all of the first things you have to do in order to become a wizard don't look anything like what you think of as "the occult".

Also, Harry Potter lied to you.

Check out my article on How to Become a Real Wizard! And if you liked it, please share!


Currently Smoking: Ben Wade Canadian + Image Latakia

Sunday 19 February 2017

Classic Rant: Why Do Commercial RPGs Succeed?

A few days back I posted an old blog entry asking "why do commercial RPGs fail"? And a lot of people found it quite interesting, but a few of them have been cajoling me into sharing my thoughts as to the opposite end of the spectrum; that is, why do commercial RPGs succeed? What's the special formula for success?

So here's what I'd say on the subject:

1. Promotion: you might have written the greatest RPG in the history of the Universe; but if no one knows it exists, you're screwed. If we're talking about large-scale commercial endeavors, then the focus here is on things like advertising, but also Public Relations; a large gaming company will inevitably have detractors, so it will also need defenders and promoters.

If we're talking about a small-print RPG, unless you're the RPGPundit or something, detractors are probably not an issue you have to deal with; your main issue is going to be having people know you even exist. So besides focusing on writing a good game, you need to focus on creating good "buzz". You need to start talking about the game and getting people to talk about it long before it even sees print. This means posts on forums, on blogs, on G+, kickstarter campaigns (which are as much about getting attention as securing funds, a point some people don't quite gather sometimes), and generally creating an environment where there are people wanting to own the game before they even can.
This is, in fact, #1 by a HUGE margin. It's more important than your rules, your art, or anything else. There are less worthy games that have sold far better than truly great games purely on the basis of having been able to drum up more effective promotion. So if 'commercial success' is your standard, this is the single biggest issue. It's one reason to hire a Consultant like, oh say, me! Someone who won't just tell you what you're doing wrong in the rules, but who can also just by associating himself with the game create a buzz for it.

And, on that note, I'll point out that there's really no such thing as 'bad buzz'. That's why people send me books to review that they KNOW, without a shadow of a doubt, I will despise. Because me utterly trashing their product will make them more famous and sell them more books. 

2. Presentation: Not every successful RPG needs to be a full-colour hardcover, though that doesn't hurt. The thing is, just about every really successful game does something to create some kind of image for itself. With an old-school RPG, this might mean having a look that is intentionally retro, for example. Nor do you need to go insane with the art budget (that might even be detrimental, if it pushes the cost of your book beyond a certain tier), but it's important that it have some kind of appealing aesthetic, even if you're working mainly with public domain illustrations or the like. Having some cool maps can't hurt either. 

But really, there's one obvious element to presentation that I think matters more than any other: the cover. It's what people will see first, be it in the local gaming store, or on RPGnow/amazon/whatever. Having the right cover might make the difference between people passing right by/scrolling right through, or stopping to look. If you're going to to out of your way with one part, the cover is it.

3. The Right Balance of 'New' and 'Approachable': while just what's in your game matters less for commercial success than promotion, it can make a big difference for long-term viability. You want to have a game that has a reason for existing; if your game has nothing at all that's new in it, there will be little reason for anyone to get it. That's why the 53rd exact-Clone of OD&D is not going to really sell well even with the OSR anymore; but if you do something like Dungeon Crawl Classics, it will. You also can't be "too weird to live", at the same time. Something radically different (or just very radical) will end up costing you customers; it may get a tiny core of fanatics, if you're really lucky, but that will only matter if you can find ways to keep milking that core.

A safer bet is to produce something that is definitely approachable, that people will immediately know what to do with it, but that provides something different from what is already around. Arrows of Indra, for example, has been a success by combining old-school D&D familiarity with the more 'exotic' element of Indian Mythology.

4. A "Killer App", Without Re-Inventing the Wheel: it is a mistake to recreate the whole notion of RPG rules just for it's own sake. Likewise, cheap gimmicks ("task resolution is done by using a dreidel instead of dice!") may generate a little buzz but is just as likely to turn people off. What you want is to generally have a system that is quite familiar to people, even if it's not an OSR or D20 system game; even if you are making a new set of rules, have the familiar 'formula' of how to make those rules work: attributes, skills, abilities, etc.

But it can certainly work for you if, within either your rules or your setting, you have some kind of clever new application, a mechanic that sets your game apart from other OSR games, or other point-buy-games-vaguely-similar-to-WoD, or whatever. 

Look at D&D 5e, for example. One of the things that is being praised about it is how much more approachable it is to D&D players than 4e was; it "feels" more like D&D. It uses "the best of all the older editions", etc. But the areas where there has been innovation are getting huge buzz too, especially the "Advantage/Disadvantage" rules. These are the "killer App" that differentiates 5e from other editions and makes it stand out in its own right. Now, had they tried to reinvent the wheel at every turn, you wouldn't be seeing the same kind of praise, and the truly awesome innovative bits would have been lost in a quagmire of needless and mediocre innovative bits. 

It's tricky to know just how far to go with this, or just where the line is between "innovative mechanic" and "cheap gimmick"; that sort of thing is, unfortunately, largely a question of game design craft, not something that can be easily delineated into some kind of formula. Another reason to get yourself a good game Consultant! Did I mention I'm available at reasonable rates?

5. And Finally, Not Fucking Up: There's a reason I wrote a blog entry about why RPGs commercially fail, before ever getting around to why they succeed. A large part of success amounts to Promotion + Not Fucking Up. In fact, while I put this in last spot, it should really be number two, right after Promotion. It matters more than the other points. If your game is full of shitty writing, huge sections of irrelevant game fiction or weird jargon, a crappy system (for any of the reasons systems can be crappy; but mainly extreme-complexity... note that I'm not saying you can't do a rules-heavy game, but there's a huge difference between a rules-heavy game written in a way that is easy to quickly get into, and one that requires that you read through 400 pages of text and figure out complicated formulae before you could even make a character), or extremely limited appeal (due to extreme pseudo-artistic pretentiousness, or an over-specific theme or subject that hardly anyone would want to actually play), then hardly anything will save it.


(Originally Posted July 26, 2014)

Saturday 18 February 2017

Break Saturday: Anti-Trump School-Teachers Edition

Today on Break: a public school teacher has just been shown to assign her kids vocabulary homework that includes disparaging remarks about Donald Trump.

In the latest article, I take a look at some other possible anti-Trump school assignments you can expect to see any time now from leftist teachers that think they have a right to impose their politics on your children.

Think I'm being too extreme in suggesting there'll be a pattern of this happening?  Well, there's a twist to these assignments...

Check it out, and if you like it, please share!


Currently Smoking: Neerup Cutty + C&D's Crowley's Best

Friday 17 February 2017

DCC Campaign Update: Let's Go Assault a Child

We left off with the party massively split-up, mostly in the city of Lol (though a couple of PCs were still down in "the Sphincter" and presumed dead).  Bill the Elf was imprisoned by the High Council of Wizards in a place called the Infinity Pit.  Yarr the halfling had ingratiated herself to one of the council members, Princess Fairywinkle, in an attempt to negotiate Bill's freedom. Morris had ended up 'encapsulated' for fighting in the public thoroughfare with Rainbow Deva. The yellow mutant boat-arsonist had received an important message from Jal'udin the rogue, and was absolutely sure not to deliver it.


-"I don't want to play Muu anymore. I want to roll up some new characters."
10 minutes later, Muu's player has generated a blob-man, a furry space insect, and a techno walrus.
"I just wanted to play someone normal!"
"He wants to play what he's not."

-"Dude, you know how many players would love to play any of those characters?"
"fuck it, I'm playing Teal the mud-mutant warrior from my last batch."
"Thank you for wasting all our time."

-"Your mental-defective boat-arsonist is sleeping in a closet."
"Hey! He's not a mental-defective. He's Handi-capable!"

-"Notice how everyone associated with Sezrekhan is terrible at who they actually choose to trust with important things?"
"That's because Sezrekhan is the Ayn Rand of Daemons."

-"What's going to happen to Bill? I wouldn't really care, but he's sort of my ride..."

-Heidi and Teal both regain consciousness at the bottom of the Sphincter. They both survived their last plummet into the depths as they tried climbing down the canyon because their fall was broken by a large mass of rotting radioactive sludge.
"You know what this is from, right?"
"Feels like it's from a dead shoggoth who was blown to bits with dozens of atomic mini-missiles."

-"so Arnok actually saved FIVE PCs now?! That was so not the plan!"

-Teal enters the crystal shard and transmats to Lol. There's a nerdy intern waiting at the transmat platform on that end.
"Are you a wizard??"
"Um.. yes. I'm the knife wizard!"
"You're not on the list!"
"...can I see the list?"
"I'm...this guy!"
"You're Raistlin?"

-Seconds later the intern starts to see through Teals pathetic ruse, and Teal runs for it, rushing into the flying Space-Kirin's corral and hiding in a storage room.

-Heidi beams up to Lol as well.
"Hello. Have you seen a mud-mutant around here?"
"The 'Knife Wizard'? He's not a real wizard you know! He lied to me! I put my trust in him!"

-Meanwhile, Teal is quickly found by the Guardian Robots.
"I stab one with my knife!"
"The knife breaks."

-Bill and Pertinax are in the Infinity Pit, getting high as all fuck to try to contact Bob Shoggoth. Actually, Pertinax didn't want to smoke any, but second hand smoke ruined his efforts to avoid having anything to do with Bill's crazy plan. Soon, they're both stoned out of their gourds, talking about cheese.

-"Man, I've lost all respect for Pertinax now. He used to have some dignity!"
"Yeah, until he met Bill!"
"He has that effect on people."

-Bill contacts Bob Shoggoth, and just for shits and giggles has Bob show Pertinax his true visage. Pertinax starts screaming hysterically, having lost all his Sanity Points from the encounter with a Thing Man Was Not Meant To Know.

-Bob Shoggoth is leaving all of creation, because of Sezrekhan. After totally disbelieving everyone who had warned him Sezrekhan was going to fuck everything up, from his fellow PCs, to important NPCs, to the High Council, Bill instantly believes in the danger when a rastafarian shoggoth tells him so.

-Also, Bill forgets to ask Bob Shoggoth to rescue him from the Infinity Pit.
"I forgot. Things kind of went another way and I got distracted..."
"It's because he got high!"

-So Bill is still stuck in the Infinity Pit with Pertinax, who won't stop screaming and has started to bleed out of his eyes from the Lovecraftian horror.
"..this is fine."

-The blacksmith and the farmer had found a cheap inn to stay the night, and the Blacksmith goes to de-encapsulate the prisoner he'd bought at the auction earlier that day. His new indentured servant turns out to be a seemingly ditzy prostitute named Myla.

-lost in the city of Lol, trying to find absolutely any of his team-mates, Heidi (who keeps insisting his name is pronounced 'haadee') runs into a crazy madman that's screaming about how "All is Sezrekhan!!". Some of the pepperpot-shaped Guardian Robots show up and encapsulate him.

-He then runs into a whole group of people, really creepy people who are also chanting in unison that "all is Sezrekhan". They are stalking toward him trying to grab him.
"hey, look over there, it's Sezrekhan!"
"They turn to look"
"I wasn't sure that would work. I run like hell!"

-He runs into another alley where he sees a couple engaged in man-blob sexual intercourse.
"I back away slowly."

-The blacksmith and the farmer desperately  need money, in order to buy Morris' capsule at the auction tomorrow.  Myla tells them she can get them some money.
"Ok, just don't tell me where you're going to get it from..."

-Heidi runs into a weird guy who apparently mistakes him for someone else. He tries to use a secret code with him.
"The crow flies at midnight..."
"I guess so?"
"oh. Sorry, nevermind!"
"Hey, wait!! You don't know where Bill the Elf is, do you? I came with him.."
"You're with Bill the Elf?? Come with me."

-The guy leads Heidi into a hovel where there's several shady looking characters. He has found The Resistance!
Their leader is a tough smart blonde woman in a tight dress.
"Wait.. is that Myla the prostitute? The one that was with the other guys?

-"Had Bill come here to destroy the Council?"
"He wasn't very clear... he said something about joining them, or destroying them... I think Bill might be dyslexic."

-"So Bill is in the Infinity Pit... what about Morris?"
"He's been Encapsulated."
"Somehow that doesn't surprise me."

-"The council has been subverted by one or more diabolists. Those wizards who aren't corrupted are too decadent to do anything. Bill is our only hope!"
"Oh man, you're so fucked."

-"He isn't our only hope... there is another."

-Meanwhile, the next morning Yarr goes with Princess Fairywinkle to meet Cylor the Cyclops Wizard, who they hope to convince to join Fairywinkle in sponsoring Bill to go through the test of membership in the High Council, which would get him out of the Infinity Pit on a technicality.

-"You know how I found that book of zoology last night in Fairywinkle's bookshelf and spent most of the night reading through it?"
"Well, you told me that Cylor is an obsessive collector of rare birds?"
"Yes, now that you're here you see that as well as attractive young male and and female slaves, he has many gilded cages with fancy birds, plus magnificent giant cats, and a menagerie full of monsters. He's quite the collector."
"Good. So I use everything I read to talk with him about some of the animals I recognize and flatter him about his collection."
"...damn, you're good."

-As Yarr enters Cylor's tower she notes a great statue given to him in gratitude from the people of Minotauria.
"Wait.. Minotauria??"

-Yarr succeeds in convincing Cylor. But she can also act as a witness to the fact that Bill couldn't have had anything to do with the disappearance of the Hippomagus, since he'd been in the Shithole for the past several weeks.
"If Bill was not the culprit, that means that someone on the council has betrayed us all! I'm fairly sure it's Zak the Grey Alien Wizard."
"Well, I think it's John De La Pole!"
"So why do each of you think that the person you named is the traitor?"
"Well... Zak thinks he's so cool..."
"And De La Pole is all stuck up."

-At this point everyone realizes the High Council of Wizards are much like a gang of high school students.

-"So now we are allies, eh, Fairwinkle? Well, Cylor has had worse allies!"
"And once we free Bill you'll have a worse ally again!"

-"I only hope we don't come to regret this."
"They're freeing Bill, of course they're going to regret it!"

-"Man, Cylor is like one of those guys from 'I Claudius'!"

-Meanwhile, Myla has agreed to help the blacksmith and the farmer purchase and decapsulate Morris. She takes them to a Frog-man loan shark. He demands the Farmer as collateral, and gives them a 2000gp loan in exchange for them paying him back 3400gp and 98sp.

-"you just sold out the farmer, and you guys call me the psycho!"

-Heidi ends up a prisoner of the Resistance. Myla brings the blacksmith there too, hoping to confirm that Heidi isn't a secret double-agent of the High Council. Unfortunately, the two had never met until just then.
"One or both of you could be spies."
"Probably him!"
"Who were you trying to free?"
"Really? You probably don't want to free him."
"Ok, I think Heidi's legit."

-"I think Bill broke Pertinax."

-With Pertinax a 0-San lovecraftian-horror-victim, Bill does the obvious and loots his cellmate. He finds a horn which turns out to be a Horn of Dutchmen!
"Yes, you have summoned us for a while.. isn't that weird?"

-He also finds a ring of weakness and puts it on, instantly dropping his Strength and Stamina to 3.
"Damn. Oh well, I chop off that finger."

-The auction begins, and the Blacksmith turns out to be outbid on his attempt to purchase Morris. He notes that the winner of Morris' capsule happens to be a frogman.  He realizes he might have made a mistake by mentioning that Morris had thousands of gold pieces on him.
He does manage to successfully bid on Rainbow Deva.

-Teal is being auctioned at the same event. He ends up being bought, and subsequently de-encapsulated, by a mercenary bounty-hunter named Malaprex the Violent.
"What do you do?"
"I mostly kill people!"
"Me too!"
"Great! Let's go drinking!"

-At the meeting of the High Council, Cylor and Fairywinkle manipulate the technical rules of the Council to get Bill released from the Infinity Pit. They're all stunned to see him horribly weakened and missing a finger.

-"What happened to you??"
"Well, first I contacted a Shoggoth.."
"He serves the Void!"
"I don't serve the Void! I just sometimes smoke weed with someone who came from it.."

-The Archemaster was supposed to be at that meeting of the council, to complete his re-application for membership. But he's conspicuously absent.  Meanwhile, Heidi discovers that the Archemaster has been recruited into the Resistance.
"Do you serve Bill, Heidi?"
"Not really."
"...good answer."

-"Should we really be trying to blow up the high council with an enormous bomb?! I mean, what about the Sezrekhan problem? Shouldn't we be trying to form a coalition?"
"Let me tell you about coalitions: when G.O.D. awoke, a grand coalition of the great and the good took place on Mt.Parnassus. You know what they did? NOTHING. They talked and talked all through the crisis."
"Well, we're here now!"
"So if it wasn't those guys, who stopped the crisis?"
"...that's not important."

-Myla and the blacksmith follow the frogman who bid on Morris to a ki-rin rental store that appears closed. The frogman knocks on the door and gives a secret password to enter.

-a young frogboy leaves the shop shortly thereafter, heading toward the Loan Shark's shop.
"We have to stop him!"
"OK, let's go assault a child."

-Meanwhile, Malaprex the Violent and Teal (the also violent) learn that Bill has been freed by the High Council.
"Bill's head would fetch us untold riches in any of a dozen kingdoms! You need to infiltrate Bill's group again and then betray him."

-Teal gets to Cylor's tower, where Bill is staying.
"Oh it's you."
"Yes, I'm here to help"
"Good. Well... um.. go find Morris!"
"Does he even know how to find Morris? Does he know this city? Do we even have any idea where Morris is?"
"He has resources!"
"He doesn't look like he has resources. He looks like an imbecile."
"Hey! I... don't know what that word means!"

-Teal immediately proves himself an imbecile by mentioning that he's been sent by Malaprex to betray Bill.

-After taking out the little frogboy, the Blacksmith and the resistance break into the Frogman shop and steal Morris' capsule. Then the Blacksmith and one of the resistance get to the Loan Shark's place before he's been alerted to anything, and pays off his loan, freeing the Farmer. They head to Decapsulate Morris, but on the way they get intercepted in an alley... by Jal'udin and his assassins!
"Have you contacted Bill?"
"Um.. yeah, sure."
"Did he get my message?"
"...tell him to meet me at the Dancing Harpy Saloon.  It is time we worked together to stop Sezrekhan."
"Weren't you allies once before?"
"Yes, long ago... then stuff happened."
"That sounds a bit sexual..."
"What?! No! I meant I killed him"
"Ohh.. that's much better."

-Before the blacksmith can get Morris de-encapsulated, the Resistance member who'd come with him suddenly goes nuts and starts shouting that "all is Sezrekhan". The Guardians come along and "ENCAPSULATE!" the guy.
"Shit, that's too bad. Well, I'll go de-encapsulate Morris"
"The resistance guy had Morris' capsule"
"Oh fuck."
"Wow, a capsule within a capsule, how does that work?"

-The blacksmith and the farmer decide to screw the resistance, and head to find Bill at Cylor's tower.
"Wow, you must save a lot of money on sunglasses..."

-Cylor has Teal act as bait to draw out Malaprex and then quickly subdues him with his Spider Web spell.
"So, Cylor can do whatever a spider can?"

-Heidi tries to convince Myla and the Resistance to let him go to Bill, promising them he'll recruit Bill for them.
"Do you really think you can get Bill to betray the council?"
"Bill can't stop betraying people! It's in his blood."

-Worried that the blacksmith betrayed them, Myla lets Heidi go.  She and the Resistance (including the Archemaster) will go to a new undisclosed location, and carry on with their plan to blow the council to bits.

-Finally, the boat-arsonist ended up wandering the streets of Lol utterly aimlessly. Eventually, he came across a troubling scene: BOLT-1 was meeting with several of the Guardian robots. He told them that the "Organics cannot be trusted to deal with the oncoming crisis", and that their 'plan' had to be accelerated.
"You must proceed on my signal, to cleanse the entire city of all organic life."

-Naturally, he did the only thing he could. He wandered off again and stole some eggs and a skillet from a nearby household. Literally, with his intelligence level it's the only thing he could do.

That's it for this session.  Not a lot got resolved, and instead, as usual, the PCs find themselves in a rising storm of oncoming shit about to hit multiple proverbial fans.

Will they be able to solve all the various problems, save Lol, the council, organic life, and the universe? Let's face it, probably not. But it'll be fun to see just how they fuck everything up! Stay tuned.


Currently Smoking: Moretti Rhodesian + Peterson's Old Dublin

Thursday 16 February 2017

Busy; Working

I'm working like crazy on my new Appendix P Authentic-Medieval Rules (I'm currently flirting with a new name for it, but I don't think I want to float it quite yet).  Currently, I'm doing the work of filling out the character-creation section.  This will borrow a few parts from Dark Albion, so that people won't need both books as far as play is concerned.  But I'll also be introducing some new stuff, like background skills for each social class.

Anyways, since I'm too busy to do a proper entry, I'll mention that my article about the Alan Moore/Grant Morrison Wizard War in Comics has apparently gone kind of viral. So feel free to go check it out if you haven't yet, it's really a good read if I say so myself!


Currently Smoking: Lorenzetti Poker + H&H's Chestnut

Wednesday 15 February 2017

RPGPundit Reviews: Starcluster 4: Dark Orbital

This is a review of the RPG "Starcluster 4: Dark Orbital", which is part of a series of "starcluster" games. It's published by Flying Mice, which for the interest of disclosure I'll mention once published my "Forward... to Adventure!" RPG products. I don't think that'll affect my ability to review the product, but now you know.

Dark Orbital is written by Clash Bowley, Albert Bailey, and Klaxon Bowley. This is as always a review of the print edition, which is a softcover book, 85 pages long. It has a full-color cover featuring some people at what looks like some kind of futuristic diner, one of said 'people' is a humanoid racoon smoking a cigarette (is Clash trying to cash in on the Guardians of the Galaxy?).

In what represents a disturbing move toward furry art, the back cover features what appears to be a female humanoid cat dressed up in a slutty red outfit.
Interior art is moderately sparse, featuring some of the images of sample races, some planets, and some images of some designs.

The back cover that "dark orbital is a nasty place", without actually saying just what kind of place it is. And that people are 'trapped there by cold hard economics".  It also suggest that you can "put the punk back in cyberpunk with Dark Orbital".

So let's find out what this is all about.

Like the other products in the Starcluster 4 series, this one appears to be set up for quick character creation so you can get right into play.  So right off on the first real page of the book you jump right into the character creation process.  You have to choose a template, which can be either human or from a selection of 'uplifted animals' (which explains the furry stuff).

From the basic species profile you personalize the stats slightly, then you choose your starting age, purchase a number of skill templates based on your age, pick some specialties, and traits, equipment and then you get right to play.

Humans are just humans, but the uplifted species are strangely specific: you have Spotted Hyenas, Angora Cats, Shepherd Dog, Raccoon and Hare. The artwork isn't really the typical 'furry fandom' style.  They look less anthropomorphic and more like images of actual animals stood upright and then photoshopped to give them some slight human articulations. The dog one looks ridiculous, like a German Shepherd on its hind legs given human hands and holding a gun (the rest of the body still being completely animal).  The hare and the raccoon are not much better. But hey, at least it might not turn the furries on.
Though, maybe that's too much to hope for.

As with other games in the Starcluster series, your skills are obtained based on your age.  You get a background set of skills based on where you came from (if I'm reading this right, apparently cats all come from the 'sex worker' background, which I have to say as a cat owner is profoundly disturbing).

 Then you get another set based on your 'apprenticeship' in your youth. After that you have a  number of points, based on your starting age, that you can use to buy more sets of skills, along career trees (eg. 'advertising', 'civil service', 'criminal', 'gambler', 'security', 'sneak', etc).  So for example the 'tinker' career tree starts out with "tinker", and then someone who has that bundle can buy either "machinist" or "expert tinker".  An "expert tinker" can move on to "mainteneer" or "master tinker". And so on.  Each pick gives you a few skill bonuses.

There's also rules, as to be expected in a game advertising itself as cyberpunk, for 'implants'. They seem pretty straightforward. There's only 22 examples offered, so it's not definitive, and that list included several 'cosmetic implants', which have no mechanical effect in the game, they just change something about the character's look.

There's a bit more other equipment (mostly weapons) and then some optional rules on psionics, identical to the ones in the other starcluster 4 games.

The resolution mechanics are the same too. In brief, you roll 1d20 plus 1d20 per each rank you have in a skill. You compare the various die rolls to the relevant attribute.  Any result that is equal to or lower than the attribute counts as a 'success'. Invoking a trait gives you two extra d20s.  Edges, when applicable, add 1 to the value of the attribute for the purpose of the skill check. Situations can modify the roll by up to two dice, or the attribute value by 1 point.

There's also a totally different mechanic available; the one above is the 'starpool' mechanic.  The alternate is called the star100. In this one you determine the percentage of success by adding 40 + a modifier based on your relevant attribute + a modifier equal to the skill rank times five.
Then you roll a percentile die, and if you roll under the target number, you succeed.  The level/quality of your success is judged by a number of multiples of ten by which you made the check.  Traits give you +20 to the target number, edges give you +10. Modifiers can alter the target number by up to 20 points.

Next, we get to the setting: the "Cry in the Dark" star system.  It's a small dim red sun, with two planets, five moons, and two space stations. Right off, you get that the place seems unappealing. Apparently it has great mineral wealth, though.

The planets are Friday XIII, which has a slightly toxic atmosphere but is hotly contested.  It has lush vegetation and some ancient ruins;  and Bantu, a gas giant with the five moons. The only place that isn't completely crappy is "Cry in the Dark", one of Bantu's moons. But the main setting of the book is Dark Orbital, which was originally the colony ship that brought the settlers to this system.

Dark Orbital now serves as a space station. It's quite large, and a lot of it has been adjusted for living quarters.  There's some areas that don't have artificial gravity. The people living in the edge of the antigrav areas are basically slum-dwellers, surviving off scraps from the higher rings of the station/ship where the well-to-do live.

There are various important families/gangs that run things in the slums, chop shops for cybernetics, unauthorized black markets, cat-prostitute dance halls, raccoon fences for stolen tech (raccoons were originally uplifted to work maintenance on the colony ship), hare mediators, free clinics which act as fronts for drug lords, gangs, vigilantes, pirate entertainment networks, and more.

Most of these things are only detailed with single paragraphs. There are some floorplans, but not in detail of the entire station.  You do get a page which lists the various neighborhoods in Dark Orbital, along with their specialty stores, manufacturers, and services. None of these are elaborated beyond their names (stuff like "Guierrez Family Electronics Store", "Mao Boonmee Guinea Pig Farm and Butcher Shop", or "Spotted Pack Recycling Center").  It's clearly up to the GM to fill in a lot of the gaps in terms of what these places are about or what to use them for.

You do get a random-table "Situation Generator". It lets you roll at random (d20) for an "actor" (eg. local gang, Hop Congress, gambler, rickshaw puller, etc), "reason/object" (eg. token cache, mechanical part, illicit love, secret passage), "location" (eg. local noodle shop, brothel, empty tanks, internal stairwell), and "action" (eg. Kidnapping, cheating, take-over, politics). Again, none of these are detailed in any way. What it basically does is give the GM four words/phrases, that he then has to put together into an adventure.

There are some examples of actual play, which can give you perhaps some hints of the type of stuff you can do in Dark Orbital.

So on the whole, I'd say I'm not quite as impressed by Dark Orbital as I was by Zero Stage , the last Starcluster product I reviewed. Zero Stage seemed a lot more detailed, and presented a lot more interesting stuff. It was more vast, and more unusual.

But if you're looking for a skeletal framework for a claustrophobic cyberpunk type of setting inside the shell of an old starship, there's some utility to this product. It just requires rather a bit more work on the GM's part to fill it out.


Currently Smoking: Neerup Hawkbill + Image Virginia

Tuesday 14 February 2017

Classic Rant: On Cynical Dungeons as a Substitute for Real Creativity

Yesterday I commented on a comment thread about an article someone had written on the "negadungeon", which is to say a dungeon or general adventure (often exemplified by the works of James Raggi & LotFP) where the point is all but to murder the player characters, where everything is a trap or a trick, where it is (most crucially) a set up so that the player's own actions end up causing them to unleash the terrible problem (instead of the standard dungeon, where the PCs go in to SOLVE the problem). And it is usually a dungeon with very high mortality and incredibly little reward, the reward often also screwing over the PCs somehow.

Now James Raggi is a very good writer, one of this best in this genre is Death Frost Doom. I've run it twice: in the first case, it did indeed unleash a zombie apocalypse, which I later had the players help to avert with a Cleric army. The second time I ran it, the player characters figured out that things had been sealed up for a reason, and decided to go home without entering; naturally, I gave them the total XP for all the monsters and treasures found in the dungeon, because in this case they DEFEATED the undead army by not entering at all in the first place. The players were very happy with the xp, but they also thought that it was a "retarded" adventure, because what's the point of a dungeon where the best possible thing you can do is not go in?

What's the point indeed? I had an argument on said thread yesterday with James Raggi about this, and highlighting the difference between the particular kind of "weird fantasy" he likes, and the "dark heroic" fantasy I like and use in Dark Albion.

The "negadungeon" is hip right now, but in ACTUAL PLAY its something that gets old really fast. 

Perhaps more importantly, in terms of design, it's always a lot easier (and actually far less clever than its authors think) to make something "against type" seem kind-of-interesting than to make something traditional turn out really interesting.

There are 'negadungeons' which are very clever; but there's a strong element of hipsterism to the obsession with them. In a way, the competition to create ever more pointless fucked-up adventures where PCs only ever get screwed over has become its own meta-negadungeon, a trap those authors who are fans of the concept can't seem to find their way out of; kind of like being ironic for so long you never know if you ever actually mean anything anymore.

And at least James Raggi is a decent writer; god help you when you get a negadungeon by someone more mediocre.

Anyways, they're fine in small doses, but if you live in a "negadungeon world" then the whole becomes swiftly tedious. I guess that's the difference between Raggi's nameless pseudo-europe and my own Dark Albion (which he declined to publish because it wasn't "weird" enough in the sense of fitting his own definition of that word; but I suspect also because it wasn't cynical or ironic enough). Now it's going to be published by and in collaboration with Dominique Crouzet (Fantastic Heroes & Witchery).

It will feature many barrows, tombs, goblin warrens, etc., which should probably stay sealed, or better yet lost, made by the ancient Cymri (the first men) or the Fae themselves; but places that will be opened because those who defeat the terrible evils therein will also gain fame, glory and the favour of the Unconquered Sun. 

Yes, these places will be full of unspeakable horrors: things man was not meant to know, like wraiths, or goblins -- and see, that's the thing too, the difference: the cynical-set wants to make a "tentacle-eyestalk-thing infused with the spirit of collective despair" into something really scary and inhuman for PCs... I want to make an Elf into something really scary and inhuman for PCs. There's a very big difference in that.

I think that it's possible get so stuck on this kind of cynical idea of design that you really miss out on what is the bigger challenge. It's a bit like that time on the Simpsons that Lisa pointed out that while Smashing Pumpkins might be a good band, making teenagers depressed is like shooting fish in a barrel. It's less 'hip' but takes far more genius to make a song that is actually good and will also make teenagers feel optimistic.

Likewise, any idiot can make a bad traditional adventure. It is also easy for anyone of mediocre talent to make a mediocre "anti-traditional adventure". It might take someone who's fairly talented to make an actually great "anti-traditional adventure". But it takes a fucking genius to make a really great traditional adventure.

Making a cynical and pessimistic dungeon/adventure that:

a) screws over players and demands moral ambiguity of the PCs, while it features
b) some twisted tentacle-creature or whatever certainly something that can be done better or worse. Raggi generally does it well, but it's still a lot LESS clever than figuring out how to make an adventure about:

a) good (having a meaningful chance of) triumphing over evil and
b) where the PCs can (have a reasonable chance of) coming out the triumphant victors (whether morally ambiguous or otherwise as they so desire) that
c) at the same time doesn't seem corny or rehashed, and that figures out a way to
d) make a goblin (or any other archetypal monster the players have seen a thousand times) into the central and fearsome featured enemy.

I can't help feel that, in some sense, the fans of negadungeons don't technically actually TRUST Old-School gaming (and its archetypal concepts and virtues) to be any good; or at least trust themselves to be any good at doing it. That's why they need to twist it around with cynicism and irony. 


(Originally Posted June 28, 2014)

Monday 13 February 2017 Monday: Occult Comic Book War Edition

Today on  Grant Morrison and Alan Moore are two of the world's greatest living comic writers. Both have had a huge influence on geek culture, pop culture and even mainstream culture.

Both are also wizards.  Serious wizards, who've dedicated their lives to the occult.  Their literature and writings on the subject are taken seriously in the occult world.

They also hate each other.

Find out the whole story, about Moore and Morrison's massive wizard-war they've been fighting with each other for the last 25+ years.  Not only in the occult world, but also in the world of comics, where their comics are like spell-volleys, squarely aimed at each other.

As always, please share!


Currently Smoking: Masonic Meerschaum + Image Virginia